As much as the work we do at KPS4Parents focuses on social justice issues that include parents’ legal rights in the special education process and related areas of public agency regulation, I’ve been hesitant until now to say anything about what has been charading as a parents’ advocacy movement, lately. This is mainly because of the most recent developments involving the leadership of one such faux parent advocacy organization, Moms for Liberty, which pretty much speak for themselves and eliminate the need for me to work that hard at supporting my arguments with evidence.
I’m busy. I don’t have time for deep dives into the world of politics when I’m already doing deep dives into the peer-reviewed research and case law during the regular school year. I see every bit of stupidity and ineptitude in local government as we see in Congress on the daily. Idiot politicians are the reason why lay advocates and civil rights attorneys are needed in a democracy. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards.” It’s not like any of this is new.
I’ve got over 20 students on my lay advocacy caseload, at least two of those cases are going to due process, several of those cases have outstanding remedies due to them from a federal investigation of their local school district that have not yet been negotiated, and others are requiring me to work with families at the local agency level to hopefully resolve their concerns, all the while also making the record just in case formal complaints or litigation become unavoidable. I’m not going to stop all of that to write a blog post/podcast episode unless the moment is right, and it’s now right.
I’m won’t rehash the Moms for Liberty scandal, here. You can read up on that on your own time, if you don’t already know about it. What I’m focusing on here are the social and psychological sciences as they interact with the rule of law in our democratic republic, and what that means for this country to have a government that is “of the people, for the people, and by the people” with respect to legitimate parent advocacy.
We’re meant to have a representative government and it isn’t representative of most of “the people” when a tiny minority of whack-job conspiracy theorists and con artists with prefrontal cortices made of cottage cheese or something close to it, are put into positions of authority, or otherwise have influence over those with authority, and have access to taxpayer resources with no effective systems of oversight or accountability. Once in power, people like these then attempt to bend reality to fit their whacko notions of how things should be, regardless of what the majority of their constituents want or need or the actual facts of the situation, usually for their own financial gain and without regard for any harm done to others. Berkeley Breathed referred to such an individual as a “tax-fattened hyena,” in one of his old Bloom County cartoons. I find the term eternally apt.
I find that these are “the people” employed within the public sector who are the most opposed to any kind of data collection that could be used as an audit trail and enforcement tool, which is why the backend business automation of most publicly funded agencies at the local level is such garbage. It’s really hard to misappropriate public funds when you’re leaving digital footprints right back to yourself in the process. Effective office automation on par with what has been happening in the private sector for decades has been limited in the public sector for supposed budgetary reasons, but the reality is that the ROI on a good system would make the upgrade pay for itself in no time. It’s not costs that are being avoided, it’s audit trails.
Because “the people” are expected to hold their government accountable according to the rule of law, it is necessary for “the people” to know how to do so and be given access to public agency information through various client’s rights, freedom of information, and public records laws. Because of our laws regarding public access to public agency information and the mechanisms of accountability that are built into the regulations that describe how our public agencies are supposed to operate, our democracy equips us with powerful tools that allow us to advocate for appropriate outcomes as regular members of society, including as parents for our children in programs for which we pay taxes to serve their needs as a matter of law.
Keeping parents in the dark about their rights and the proper paths for recourse and distracting them with pointless displays of anger and hostility are all parts of a strategy to undermine legitimate parent advocacy, not support it. It drains parents’ energy, time, and resources to pursue legitimate remedies by wasting it all on displays of emotion that rarely change policies and create more problems than they solve. The actual processes and procedures afforded to parents as per their lawful parent rights in the public education setting are the only mechanisms of democracy that are designed to address meritorious parental concerns.
No matter how many fits at a school board meeting a parent may throw, until they file a formal complaint of some kind, there’s not much anyone can do. When parents bring their legitimate concerns to a school board meeting, the proper response is for someone from the school board to help the parent exercise their rights, including helping them file a formal complaint. When parents attempt to argue for things outside the scope of what their public schools can legally do, the schools are obligated to explain how the rules actually apply and what can legitimately be done to address such parental concerns.
In the case of special education, this is specifically regulated at 34 CFR Sec. 300.503, which mandates the provision of Prior Written Notice (PWN) to parents whenever a change to a child’s special education program is proposed or denied by the public education agency. If the public education agency’s explanation doesn’t make sense for why it is proposing changes or refusing changes requested by parents, parents have a right to use whatever cockamamie excuse they’ve been given in their PWNs as evidence against their public education agencies in regulatory complaints or legal proceedings. Our democracy protects parents with rules like these, but knowing how to use them and enforce them isn’t something most parents know how to do.
One of the methods of depriving people of their rights is to deprive them of any knowledge of past successful efforts to secure the rights of citizens, such as with the litigation and legislative history of special education law, and the processes and procedures by which everyday people can now assert their rights under the law because of how past cases were successfully argued and won and how legislators have responded to the relevant scientific and legal developments over time. This is why these organizations are so strongly opposed to any curriculum that accurately describe the effects of slavery on American society and governance, and don’t want to acknowledge the growing body of science that better explains gender and sexual orientation than what the science of the past was able to tell us because it challenges behaviors that have been learned and practiced over generations according to religious and political beliefs that don’t always abide by observable reality.
For example, during the 1600s, the astronomer Galileo died under house arrest for heresy after daring to assert that the Earth rotates around the sun based on his observations using telescopes and calculating the movements of the stars and planets, because this contradicted the Church’s position at that time that the Earth was the center of the Universe and everything in the skies rotated around the Earth. Galileo was right, of course. He witnessed the actuality of God’s miracle, but rather than revel in its realization, the Church rejected it because it contradicted a long-standing myth that was being knowingly perpetuated by the Church so that it was not contradicted in the eyes of the people, lest it lose their trust and obedience. The Church did not acknowledge that Galileo was right and absolve him of heresy until more than 300 years later during the 20th century.
A fact-based discovery that contradicted the Church in such a significant way would have cost the Church a great deal of credibility among its believers if acknowledged as true, or at least that’s what the Church apparently feared, so it tried Galileo for heresy and gave him the choice of being found guilty and thrown in prison for the rest of his life or accepting a plea deal and spending the rest of his life under house arrest. He took the plea deal.
Whether you’re religious or not, the Universe functions according to set rules that can be measured, analyzed, and understood with enough time and resources. There may be a difference of opinion as to why that is and who or what caused it to happen, but what has actually happened with respect to Creation is an observable fact that simply has to be studied in order for the design’s function and purpose to be understood.
For example, humankind just spent seven years flying a space craft to an asteroid that is due to smack into the Earth in about 150 years so that we can start figuring out now a way to prevent it from hitting us by the time it gets here. We just flew this thing over millions of miles of space, right up to this asteroid, punched the asteroid using a mechanical arm, captured chunks of debris and dust that flew up off the surface of the asteroid from getting punched, then flew the debris and dust all the way back to Earth so we can analyze it and figure out what the asteroid is made of, which will help us figure out how to prevent it from hitting us. You cannot tell me that our species is capable of doing that and yet we can’t apply science to improve the quality of life for every human on our planet without destroying the world around us.
I help everyday families of learners with disabilities acquire the necessary knowledge about the processes and procedures that apply to their disability-related needs and rights so they can successfully advocate for their loved ones according to the applicable science and the rule of law. I understand the regulated processes and procedures that give my clients access to what the law promises them. I use the applicable sciences to identify each learner’s unique needs so as to inform the requests I make of publicly funded agencies and programs on their behalf. I understand what it means to facilitate “the people’s” participation in democracy at the local level, including participation in state and federal investigations, as well as due process hearings and disability-related litigation in local, state, and federal courts.
I understand that the only way to uphold democracy is to participate in it according to its rules and regulations. Anything that undermines the democratic process by violating a student’s constitutional rights, down to a shoddy triennial evaluation or a garbage IEP, is fair game for citizens knowledgeable enough to understand what they are looking at and the remedies available to them to fix anything wrong. Keeping people ignorant of what has worked in the past is a deliberate attempt to undermine people’s advocacy for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities in the present. People who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it, thus learning their lessons the hard way from trial-and-error rather than from the example set by those who came before them, which wastes time and slows down the rate at which society becomes smarter.
The first step of preventing people from advocating for themselves is preventing them from knowing about past efforts of advocacy that were successful, hence the book bans, altering curriculum standards to promote misinformation and omit important accurate information, protesting community-based pro-literacy and historical accuracy efforts spearheaded by minority groups, and attempting to control any other literary outlet that could expose children to facts that make these individuals uncomfortable. Keeping people ignorant is a powerful tool of oppression. That’s why American slaves generally weren’t taught to read. A literate oppressed class can communicate and collaborate more effectively to rise up against their oppressors.
People forget that America went through upheavals similar to what we are experiencing right now, back in the 1980s and 90s with some people freaking out over mandatory seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws and “no smoking” laws in restaurants and bars the same way some people freaked out about vaccines and masks during the worst of COVID. Back then, the Cold War had all the doomsayers expecting everyone to die in an unavoidable nuclear holocaust. Tipper Gore was coming for everybody’s rock music lyrics and Larry Flint, who once ran for president on the Republican ticket, was defending his first amendment right to show exploitative photos of consenting models to consenting purchasers of his published works, thereby effectively defending the first amendment rights of all pornography publishers.
Ironically, many of the men who I remember from back then supporting Larry Flint’s first amendment rights have since taken considerable issue with Colin Kaepernick’s first amendment rights when he peacefully protested murderous police violence against people of color and other minorities, as well as racial inequalities in America in general, by silently kneeling during the national anthem before the start of professional football games. Games! Grown men running around in matching outfits chasing balls and each other, like that’s somehow more important that the fact that we have a national epidemic of people on our local police forces terrorizing and murdering certain groups of people at will and getting away with it. It rather makes clear that they were willing to defend democracy when it meant they could look at pictures of sexually exploited models, but when it comes to protesting homicidal abuses of police authority against people of color and other minorities, as well as racial inequality in general, that is “a horse of another color,” which is disgusting.
My point is that the whacko minority has always been around, hypocritically asserting itself when it sees the opportunity to cite the law in support of its own agenda while denying the same protections to others with whom they disagree, before retreating into the corners and staying silent for a while until circumstances provoke them into coming out of the woodwork again. With each periodic re-entry into the mainstream, the whackos, at least temporarily, recruit others to their cause until their actual motives and sheer stupidity become evident to their recruits, who then abandon them as they begin to recede back into the woodwork. It’s a predictable cycle and now people are living long enough to see it repeat in their lifetimes.
When you realize it’s a predictable cycle, each new “Groundhog Day” moment leaves you better prepared for when the cycle repeats itself again. The benefit of learning from history is not having to waste time repeating past mistakes through trial and error to eventually arrive at the same conclusions. It’s Vygotskian scaffolding realness. It allows you to step into the problem-solving at a much later stage in the process, building upon the knowledge that was gathered by those who came before you, instead of starting from the beginning with nothing.
Here’s what I can tell you about having to interact with the crackpots that have infiltrated the public sector or otherwise raise pointless hell that interferes with the legitimate functions of government at the local level, as well as my childhood growing up in the middle of the still butt-hurt losers of the Civil War who have just been waiting for as long as I can remember for Dixie to rise again so they can get a re-do of the Civil War: I’m not kidding when I say their prefrontal cortices are made of cottage cheese, or the neurological equivalent thereto.
I’m entirely willing to believe that this is due to environmental deprivation of developmental learning opportunities throughout childhood and being raised by uneducated, usually deeply religious, authoritarian parents who supported slavery or descended from people who did, remained bitter and deeply chagrined about losing the Civil War, and relied on corporal punishment as their primary parenting method. I don’t think most of them were necessarily born without intact cognitive hardware to begin with. I think an awful lot of perfectly normal humans born into that culture have been deprived of developmentally appropriate environments during childhood that prevented the full development of their brains due to cultural beliefs that strictly controlled their lifestyles and environments.
There is a famous case study of a poor woman named Genie who was grotesquely neglected and abused by her family, and then subsequently exploited by the scientific community to study the effects on her development of spending the first 13 years of her life either strapped to her bed on her back or strapped into a toilet chair, always alone in her room with almost no human interactions. She spent most of the first 13 years of her life alone in that bare room with no toys, no language, and no intellectual stimulation. As a result, her brain failed to develop and she will always be intellectually, communicatively, and physically disabled and require constant care.
There were a lot of ethical concerns around how the research community handled Genie once she was rescued from her family. That said, her situation provided tremendous insight into what can happen to the brain of a developing child when necessary environmental stimuli are not present to trigger the brain to grow and develop. Play is learning, and formal education only adds to the learning that a child is naturally inclined to pursue independently in a developmentally appropriate environment. When children are deprived of developmentally appropriate environmental stimuli, the parts of their brains that are most ripe for learning are given nothing to learn and will atrophy from lack of use.
Genie’s uniquely terrible situation made clear that, once developmental milestones were lost due to environmental deprivations during childhood, they could not be recovered. This has since informed a great deal of science designed to understand how environments that contain some developmentally appropriate stimuli but not others affect human development across the lifespan, starting in childhood. In attempting to understand why the whackos are acting so whacky, it helps to understand that a fair number of them can’t help it.
This is how we’ve come to understand how It is entirely possible for a person to get just enough input from their childhood and adult environments to learn how to do accounting, cook dinner, and fly a plane, but still have failed to developed in other areas necessary to functioning as a fully capable member of society. Intellectually capable people with under-developed social/emotional functioning can pose a danger to themselves or others, particularly with respect to domestic violence and disgruntled employees.
What we are now starting to understand about the effects of children being raised in environmentally deprived environments explains a lot in hindsight, but creates a whole new set of challenges about how to ethically address this as a threat to domestic tranquility going forward. Our current societal problems with mass shootings are strikingly similar to the suicide bombers of the 9/11 era. Radicalization is a lot easier to achieve with people who have “holes” in their development from inborn disabilities and/or being raised in developmentally deprived environments. Parents who were raised as children in developmentally deprived environments are more likely to perpetuate the deprivation with their own children because they don’t know that something is missing, much less what it is, so they don’t know to add it to their children’s environments.
Education that includes developing critical thinking skills, such as those promoted by the Common Core, is necessary to create a public that is educated enough to participate in our government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” with any success. So, when these groups start coming for our public education system to remove content and control what facts our students are allowed to be taught and which facts will be withheld from them, that’s censorship, not first amendment freedom of speech or evidence-based instruction. It’s entirely unconstitutional, and it violates best practices.
That is not legitimate parent advocacy. That is an organized effort to undermine our democracy by groups of radicals looking to cloak themselves in the language and superficial appearance of a cause people can support – here, parents’ rights in the public schools – so they can infiltrate, undermine, and profit from running our public systems in a broken way. As someone who does the job for real, I resent getting lumped in with these kooks by public education agency officials and their representatives when I attempt to help a family avail itself of the actual rules and regulations as a legitimate function of democracy. I deal with enough “Karens” employed within the public schools; I don’t need to also be associated with the “Karens” high-jacking the legitimate cause of parents’ rights and using it as a dishonest cover to pursue undemocratic ends.
In the special education context, which serves as a good example of the kinds of regulated mechanisms of democracy that exist at the local level, parents have federally protected rights to, 1) informed consent, meaning they fully understand any special education-related documents to which they are asked to sign their consent, and 2) meaningful parent participation in the IEP process, including a voice in educational placement decisions. This means that a parent’s input has to be seriously considered by all the other members of the IEP team, and it’s understood that the parent is automatically a member of the IEP team as a matter of federal law. The public schools are not permitted to unilaterally decide what goes into a student’s IEP without parental input and parents have recourse if they ever disagree with the public schools about what their students with disabilities require.
There are all kinds of rules and regulations that describe how parents of children with disabilities can avail themselves of the rule of law and enforce their children’s educational and civil rights. The problem is that the rules and regulations are complicated, the science that applies to their children’s unique educational needs is complicated, the processes and procedures take way too long for comfort, and there are usually at least some unrecoverable economic costs to the families that take time to pursue appropriate remedies from the public sector for their loved ones with disabilities. It’s not fair to the person with the disabilities when the people responsible for advocating for them, usually family members, know less than the people from whom they must make these requests.
The power imbalance is significant and is only further complicated by the reality that the public sector employees have millions of taxpayer dollars to tap into to pay lawyers to keep them out of trouble. Think: “pre-conviction Michael Cohen.” These are often high-priced fixers paid by tax-fattened would-be oligarchs who view their publicly funded agencies as their own little personal fiefdoms, and their consumers as just a means to their own personal financial ends, as though public program beneficiaries solely exist to justify the publicly funded paychecks of public agency administrators.
Every state has adopted standards by which all of its public schools must abide for the purposes of providing America’s K-12 students with what each state considers appropriate for students to have learned by each grade level across all core subject areas. These whacko book-banning conspiracy theorists and their dog-and-pony road shows at school board meetings, public libraries, and community-based literary events are taking their arguments to the wrong venues if they don’t like what is being taught in their states.
Most of these folks tend to favor the idea of reduced federal government and increased state rights, so I don’t understand what their argument is, here. They have an existing state right to establish their curriculum standards at the state level, and if they don’t like those standards, they can put forth proposed state legislation or a bring a lawsuit against their state that proposes to change their state’s standards, but their local school districts are still responsible for satisfying their state’s then-current standards until such time as they are changed, as a matter of law because this is a democracy, and that’s how you change the rules if you don’t like them in a democracy. If attempts to change the curriculum at the state level fail, one’s recourse could include filing a lawsuit or running for public office to effect policies directly, not book bans and death threats.
This brings me to the actual strategy that is at play here, which is something I call the “Anger & Fear Engine.” This goes to something that most people understand, which is the fight/flight/freeze mechanism. For many years, people only thought of the fight and flight aspects of it, and I suspect that’s because they rhyme and it’s easy to remember, but in all actuality, when an organism is threatened, it will actually either run away, fight to defend itself, or freeze and get either ignored or attacked. Plenty of people know what it’s like to automatically freeze in a moment of surprise, especially if it’s scary. The fight/flight/freeze mechanism is a very primitive neurological response that is normal in human development, and something humans share in common with almost all other living creatures.
Anger is generally a secondary response that puts one on the offensive after something has initially put one on the defensive. One gets mad when made to feel afraid, vulnerable, betrayed, insulted, offended, disrespected, rejected, inferior, etc. All of those things instantly make people feel bad about themselves, at least until they’re done processing what is going on, at which point the fight/flight/freeze mechanism kicks in. Anger occurs along with the adrenaline rush that hits when that “switch” is “flipped” from feeling compromised to going on the offensive.
If you opt for fight, you’ve taken that defensiveness and flipped it to going on the offensive. If you opt to flee or freeze, the problem is likely to remain unresolved, at least temporarily. Sometimes you need to retreat and regroup before you know how to most effectively go on the offensive and fight back. Flight can serve a constructive purpose if it buys you the time to figure out what you need to do and what tools you will need to fight back and win. This is the primary reason why most of my clients do not sign agreement to any important documents when they are presented; we take our time to review them outside of any meetings when we have time to sit and focus on what they actually say before responding to them in writing with any signatures. Freezing may buy time if it doesn’t result in getting attacked; if anything, it can buy time until an opportunity to either fight or retreat presents itself.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Those words entirely capture the amount of time it takes to do a good job of gathering the necessary data and documents to inform an appropriate program of instruction for a student with disabilities, much less engage in any enforcement mechanisms that might also be necessary to make that happen.
British film producer Peter Brook is quoted as saying, “Violence is the ultimate laziness.” His point was that negotiations and adult-level problem-solving require a lot of serious thought that is based on a comprehensive-enough understanding of the underlying facts, which can take a long time, but bashing people over the head can take just a few seconds and you don’t have to think that hard to do it. Violence is lazy because it doesn’t include all the hard thought and collaboration that is required for peace. Have you noticed that the people who do the most complaining rarely have a workable plan to fix whatever they’re complaining about? They exist to grieve, not resolve.
Fear can become anger very quickly, and becoming angry can instill fear in others, which can prompt them to become angry as well, hence the “Anger & Fear Engine.” It’s a common psychological response to threats, but uncontained anger and violence towards societies or specific members of society are the methods of barbarians. They are the methods of the lazy or incapable. Successful strategists can manipulate environmental factors according to best practices and the rule of law such that other people’s behaviors are shaped and changed into something more conducive to a healthy, thriving community without any fighting at all, such as when policies and practices actually meet the needs of the people. Sun Tzu asserted in The Art of War that the most successful war is the war you prevent and never have to fight.
The problem, however, is that the dangerously large minority of people whose prefrontal cortices are something akin to cottage cheese literally lack the neurological hardware to understand how to participate in the adult-level problem-solving necessary to seriously address society’s challenges. Legitimate parent advocacy requires a lot of research and writing according to science and law, not screaming in school board meetings, blocking the entrances of public libraries, or disrupting community-based literacy programs. Any organization that purports to engage in standing up for parents’ rights should be actually participating in activities that involve the actual mechanisms of democracy, or they are just fundraising off the backs of people in need without offering real solutions and telling them the only solutions are harassment and/or violence. They are selling the lazy alternative to people who don’t know how to engage in the real solution.
Moms for Liberty and organizations like it are not legitimate parent advocacy organizations. They do not assist parents in participating in the legitimate democratic processes and procedures that already exist to help parents uphold and enforce their rights. If anything, there is an effort by these groups to obstruct and/or subvert democracy at the local level by passing bigoted, unconstitutional local school board policies and aggressively attempting to uphold and enforce them, even if they are unlawful and unethical. The legitimate complaint and due process mechanisms available to parents are not utilized by groups like these, very often because they would not be successful on their merits for the types of undemocratic culture-war claims they want to assert.
It is so very important for parents to make sure that any outside providers they turn to for support are acting according to best practices and the rule of law, and are legitimately taking the needs of client families into account. Parents should be asking a lot of “how” and “why” questions as they learn how to exercise their rights under the law. The first question any parent should ask when embarking upon an effort to exercise their rights is, “May I please have a copy of my parent rights?” Start there and keep digging for more information if something doesn’t make sense. Call your state’s department of education and ask for explanations of things you don’t understand about the rules and how you can legitimately participate.
If you think your local education agency needs better board leadership, run for school board yourself or support candidates who agree with you about compliance issues that affect your children and local community. The only way to preserve democracy is to participate in it, which means voting, running for office, and availing yourself of complaint and due process procedures as appropriate to each circumstance to create the changes in the world you want to see. Throwing a fit and demanding that everybody else force reality to bend to your will isn’t democracy at all.